The Loch Raven volleyball team spent part of last week practicing in the dark in preparation for its match yesterday at dimly lighted Catonsville.
But to their surprise, when the 12th-ranked Raiders arrived for a rematch of last year's county championship, they found brand-new lights that transformed the gym into one of the brightest around.
Once the match started, though, it was lights out for the No. 3 Comets.
Loch Raven's precise serving and stifling defense helped turn one of the season's most highly anticipated matchups into a rout, as the Raiders rolled to a 15-10, 15-8, 15-4 win in a Baltimore County 1A-2A League match.
The win enabled Loch Raven (9-0, 8-0) to take sole possession of first place in the league. Perhaps more importantly, it also gave the Raiders plenty of confidence heading down the homestretch of the season.
"We were very nervous coming in here since they were so highly ranked," said Loch Raven's Kelly Powell, "but once we got psyched and got our confidence, we just took off."
The Raiders never trailed, taking huge leads in each of the games -- 13-2, 10-1 and 11-2 -- before the Comets mounted their offense. By then, however, it was too late.
"We were outmatched," said Catonsville coach Debbie Clem, whose team lost only its second, third and fourth games of the season. "I thought Loch Raven was very consistent, and we didn't start playing until we were down by too much.
"We gave them so many free balls, and you just can't do that against them."
Most of those free balls came as a direct result of the Raiders' dominating serving game. Loch Raven scored 17 aces, led by Shannon Tanner's seven, and kept Catonsville (7-1, 7-1) off balance and out of sync the entire match.
Led by Tanners, Kelly Powell and Tiffani Tucker, the Raiders' servers picked their targets well, aiming their low-lining bullets at players who had just checked into the game and those who recently mishandled balls.
The Raiders missed only two serves all night, both in the third game.